Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Monday, December 30, 2013

TEP launches Equality Means Business to highlight pro-equality companies in TN

Contact:  Chris Sanders
                (615) 390-5252

NASHVILLE, Dec. 30, 2013— Tennessee Equality Project Foundation (TEP) President H.G. Stovall today announced a new initiative “Equality Means Business” to celebrate business support of equality across the state. The awareness campaign kicks off TEP's tenth anniversary year of advocating equality for Tennessee’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.

Honorary Co-Chairs for the initiative are entrepreneurs Martha Boggs in Knoxville, Randy Rayburn in Nashville and Ray Rico in Memphis. "We are proud to have the support of so many locally owned businesses as well as the major corporations doing business in Tennessee," said Stovall.

Rayburn said, "Throughout almost four decades in the hospitality industry, I've seen clearly that an open door policy for all customers and employees makes a business grow—period."

TEP is providing a small window sticker for businesses that want to show their support on the front door and asking business owners to add their name to the growing list that will be updated on the TEP Facebook page. "All it takes to win is one more person to stand up for equality," said Stovall.

"We hope to encourage our state’s leaders to stay focused on issues that really affect the business climate in Tennessee.   Allowing truly business-friendly policies to be held captive by those with personal agendas is bad business," said Stovall. "Too many start believing someone else’s talking points and thinking that means they know what's best for businesses and everyone else.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign's most recent Corporate Equality Index, sixty-one percent of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation and gender identity in their non-discrimination policies.  Nationwide more leaders are recognizing equality is good for business because it allows them to attract and retain the best employees and better reflect their customer base. 
Businesses interested in “Equality Means Business,” receiving a window sticker, or more information on the Tennessee Equality Project  should contact Executive Director Christopher Sanders at

Sunday, December 22, 2013

End 2013 with a matching gift to TEP Foundation

Keep reading to find out how you can Light a Match for Equality!

An anonymous donor has given $4000 to the Tennessee Equality Project Foundation toward a matching gift campaign. Help us reach a goal of matching this generous donation with a year-end tax deductible gift to the TEP Foundation.

Help TEP Foundation double the size
of a generous donation.
Your donation helps us:
  • Provide LGBT Cultural Competency education to law enforcement, social service agencies, churches and schools.
  • Empower voices  for good public policy throughout the state with Advocacy 101 training.
  • Provide media training to tell the stories of LGBT people living in Tennessee
  • Organize faith leaders who support equality
Can you help us reach our goal? Donate what you can give at the drop-down button below. We'll keep you posted on our campaign progress on the TEP Facebook Page.

Choose to give in one of our new giving circles or give another amount that you choose.

Choose a One Time Amount for the Year

Give another amount that is right for you:


The Tennessee Equality Project Foundation strives to eliminate prejudice and discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons by promoting and advocating equality through education, collaboration and victim advocacy.

TEP Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization. Contributions made to TEP Foundation are deductible for purposes of federal income tax.

Watch our progress!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A look back on a year in the politics of equality in Tennessee: Photos from around the state

It's not over yet, but 2013 has been an incredible year in forward movement for equality in Tennessee.  We fought hard and even got some results.  Check out a few of the highlights.

Advancing Equality Day on the Hill brought advocates from East, West, and Middle TN to the Capitol to attempt to stop negative bills like Don't Say Gay and advance positive legislation like the Dignity for All Students Act.  Here we are preparing for a press conference in Legislative Plaza.
On July 22 the Knox County Commission passed an inclusive non-discrimination ordinance for Knox County employees.  Pictured are bill sponsor Commissioner Amy Broyles and supporters in Knoxville in Commission chambers after the victory.
When Rep. John Ragan, House sponsor of the Don't Say Gay bill received an award from Students First, 11-year-old Marcel Neergaard called foul.  As a student who has endured bullying for being gay, Marcel received national attention when he called on Students First to rescind the award, which they did.  Yes, a student really can teach the public about what's going on in our Legislature!  Marcel continues to inspire us all at TEP.  
In order to show the reality of discrimination, couples in Nashville and a couple in Wilson County...

as well as couples in Shelby County applied for marriage licenses.    

Knoxville, Memphis, Cookeville, West TN, Chattanooga, and Nashville held rallies at the end of August to celebrate TN Marriage Equality Day to counter the Legislature's Traditional Marriage Day.  I think we had a better turnout than they did.  
In September the push began for inclusive non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies in Rutherford County Schools after a teacher was told to take down a safe schools poster.  The fight continues today with advocates developing strategy to advance their proposal in the School Board.  
At Olympus TEP honored 8 Champions of Equality--7 from state media outlets and 1 Memphis City Councilman--for their work in advancing equality in Tennessee.  Nothing we do is possible without our allies!
The Memphis community gathered in October to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the non-discrimination ordinance.
Also in October attorney Abby Rubenfeld, other Tennessee attorneys, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed suit to have the marriage of couples who moved to Tennessee legally recognized.  TEP identified 2 of the 4 plaintiff couples.
Collegedale detective Kat Cooper (center) led her city to be the first in TN to offer partner benefits.  Knoxville soon followed by executive order of Mayor Madeline Rogero.  In November Chattanooga Councilman Chris Anderson passed his partner benefits and non-discrimination ordinance making it the third city in Tennessee to offer such benefits.  Also pictured is Kat's TEP Hamilton & Bradley Counties Committee co-chair Marcus Ellsworth (viewer's left) and TEP executive director Chris Sanders.

Monday, December 9, 2013

TEP Foundation receives UCC grant for media training in East TN

December 9, 2013

Contact:  Chris Sanders  (615) 390-5252 or

Tennessee Equality Project Foundation receives grant from the United Church of Christ and Justice Witness Ministries for media training in East Tennessee

Nashville, TN--The Tennessee Equality Project Foundation's Tennessee Equality Voice program, which seeks to shape a media message for equality in Tennessee, has received a grant of $1000 from the United Church of Christ and Justice Witness Ministries.  The grant will help fund media training for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and allied community around issues of equality in East Tennessee. 

TEP Foundation Executive Director Chris Sanders notes, "This grant comes at an important time for East Tennessee, as we have seen significant gains in Hamilton and Knox Counties and emerging challenges such as the anti-partner benefits ballot measure in Chattanooga.  We need to train more members of our community and allies how to talk about the values of equality and inclusion when they engage the media.  Thanks to the generosity of the United Church of Christ and Justice Witness Ministries, as well as the encouragement of the Rev. John Gill at Knoxville's Church of the Savior, we will have the opportunity to accomplish this task in the region."

Trainings will begin in the first half of 2014.  The TEP Foundation has begun working with our network of county committees to establish times and locations. 

For more information about the TEP Foundation or to make a contribution, go to .  To contact us about upcoming training events, email us at .


Sunday, December 8, 2013

"Special Rights" argument comes from the Religious Right's attempts to divide minorities on ballot measures

Maybe everyone else knew this, but I didn't until I started reading Gay Rights at the Ballot Box by Amy L. Stone, an assistant professor of sociology at Trinity University.  Basically the argument we so
frequently hear about equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people being "special rights" came from the Religious Right's efforts to divide minority communities during the Right's earlier wave of anti-equality ballot measures.

Here's what Stone says:

Part of this secular argument about 'special rights' was a new image of the Religious Right as supportive of civil rights for 'deserving' minorities such as African Americans but opposed to 'undeserving' minorities such as LGBT activists. The anti-gay Right used special rights political messaging to divide potential allies by exacerbating existing tensions about race and class in LGBT politics. Through this messaging, the Right reaffirms gayness as whiteness, creating divisions between a presumed white LGBT movement and the presumed heterosexual African American community.

It does seem pretty consistent with the playbook, though the language of special rights is now also used to justify majority rejection of equality legislation.  Both the special rights language and the tactic of dividing minorities are items to watch as the ballot measure campaign to overturn the partner benefits and non-discrimination ordinance in Chattanooga gets underway.   

Monday, December 2, 2013

#GivingTuesday with the TEP Foundation

It's #GivingTuesday.  Consider making your contribution to the TEP Foundation at this link

You can also mail your check to
P.O. Box 330895  
Nashville, TN  37203

We are grateful for your support.  Let's advance the values of equality and inclusion in Tennessee.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Virtual "Don't Say Pizza" Party with Sen. Campfield: Get your two slices of equality!

Lately Sen. Stacey Campfield has been making the news for having trouble finding a place to host a pizza party fundraiser for his campaign.  He's had trouble with restaurants before, as we know. 

Well, according to The Nashville Scene, his problems have been solved.  His event is rescheduled for TODAY at Mafiosa's in the 12 South area of Nashville.  Yes, that's right--Nashville!

The Scene reports it's a reservation for 12 people.  But we think that's not nearly a big enough pizza party to honor the work of the legislator who brought us the Don't Say Gay bill.
School pizza from Anchorage, Alaska

So we're hosting a virtual pizza party around the state today with (or without) Sen. Campfield and we invite you all to join us.  It looks as if a slice is about $3, so why not have two? 

Consider donating $6 to the TEP Foundation at this link so we can provide more education about equality and inclusion around the state at our virtual pizza party.

Let's make it the biggest pizza party the state has ever seen!

*Hat tip to Eric P. for letting us know about the event.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Same-sex binational couple denied name change on driver's license: Video from WREG

WREG in Memphis broke the story of a same-sex binational couple (the Smarts) who tried to get a name change on a driver's license and ended up not getting a driver's license at all. TEP is attempting to explore whether there may be administrative options for rectifying these issues that couples are having all over Tennessee.  The long-term solution, of course, is challenging Tennessee's marriage discrimination amendment in court.

We're well aware that couples can get their names changed by going to court and paying around $200. That's discriminatory, though, and we'd love to find a way for them to be able to avoid that trouble and expense. Earlier on Thursday, Huffington Post ran this piece about the difficulties that couples in Georgia and Tennessee are having with the issue.  Stay tuned for more developments.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Good News: Marriage is Not Dead in Tennessee

On Thursday night, July 25, in Germantown, TN, I was there when the Family Action Council of Tennessee, (FACT) decided marriage was not dead.  However, FACT believes the institution is on life support and within a few months or a couple of years of being declared extinct.  Nate Kellum, self proclaimed chief counsel of the self founded Center for Religious Expression, attempted to, on the one hand, educate the tens of people who attended (28 plus 3 facilitators) on the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions and, on the other hand, scare them into a course of action he could  not clearly define.

But do you know what rang most true during the whole night? He endorsed the allied groups that are bringing us equal marriage.  Nate (I'm going to call him Nate cause it's easier, and because I feel like I should know him.  We were at Ole Miss Law School at the same time) told the gathering that pro-equal marriage advocacy is a success story.  That marriage equality proponents make up a small but affluent group.  That they are passionate and committed because they just brush off defeat and start re-strategizing.  He declared that they will work until there is full acceptance of their "lifestyle."  Well, by this point, I felt like standing up and yelling at the top of my lungs, "Damn Straight!!!!!"  Oops.  I mean, darn tooting!  He then stated that Christians needed to match that effort.  That's when things got scary again.

I.  Marriage is not dead.

Nate's first point was despite the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions, the "biblical" definition or marriage remained intact.  He did a relatively good job explaining the result of the decisions, but I loved his editorial speechifying along the way.  Ask me sometimes for the details, but suffice it to say, he used terms like "serious homosexual activist" in reference to the Prop 8 trial court Judge Walker, "unprecedented," "unconscionable," and "utterly deprived Prop 8 proponents of their voice in court."

II.  However, he said "marriage" is in a fight for its life.

Nate admitted that his marriage had not been "redefined", but his definition was on life support.  He immediately blamed Lambda Legal and the ACLU for wasting no time in Pennsylvania and North Carolina in challenging marriage amendments and laws.  But the worst case scenario for FACT is the Ohio case.  They know it, and they don't know what to do about it.  Ohio residents and twenty plus year partners Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, who has been stricken with ALS, flew to Maryland and got married on July 11 on the tarmac in the airplane in which they arrived.  John's family owns a  burial plot that is restricted to Arthur family descendants and their spouses. Additionally, if John dies as the Ohio law now stands, he would be identified as unmarried on the death certificate, and Jim would not be identified as spouse or survivor.  So, the gentlemen have  filed suit in Ohio federal court to have their Maryland marriage recognized by the state of Ohio.  

Last Monday, the court, relying on the DOMA case, ordered the State of Ohio to recognize the marriages of same sex spouses who married in other states but who live in Ohio. It is a thrilling ruling for same sex partners living in Tennessee, and it has FACT frightened.  Why for Tennessee?  The federal court system is geographically and for purposes of legal precedent divided into appellate court circuits.  Tennessee and Ohio are both in the Sixth Circuit, and when a Sixth Circuit Court decides an issue, it could be binding in all of the states in that circuit.  So, if the Ohio district court case is appealed to the Sixth Circuit, and the Sixth Circuit rules as the lower court did, marriage equality could effectively be brought to Tennessee.  Nate said, and I agree, that the DOMA and Prop 8 cases do not affect Tennessee marriage directly, but this Ohio case could.

Which brings us to the second point FACT made here.  That marriage is under severe attack by cultural influences.  He noted with astonishment how supporting same sex marriage has become not only "not detrimental" but politically advantageous for politicians.  I find this a huge admission from FACT and a bigger victory in the long term battle.

But then . . . 

III.  Marriage is worth fighting for he argued.

Here is where Nate fell down the rabbit hole into apparent untruths, half truths, and undocumented and unsourced scare tactics.  He argued that opening up marriage to other "definitions"  harms individuals, social interests, and religious liberties.

According to Nate, same sex marriage will beget polygamy which will beget polyamorous marriages which will beget adult/child marriages which will beget person/pet marriages.  He then linked the concept of equal marriage to the trigger word "welfare" when he blamed marriage equality in Sweden and Norway for contributing to them being the largest two welfare states in western civilization.

Finally, he finds same sex marriage harmful to religious liberty.  He posited that because same sex marriage  proponents want full societal acceptance of gay people and nothing less, a clash between those who want to live their biblical freedom and everyone else is inevitable.  He told of three arrests in Europe based upon "preaching the gospel" or simply reading from the biblical book of Romans about homosexuality, and he intimated that this type of state action was headed for America.  However, he conveniently forgot to mention the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment guaranteeing free speech and the fact there are no hate speech laws anywhere in any jurisdiction.  See aforementioned First amendment issue.

Nate then took questions ranging from should they sue the Supreme Court justices for tyranny to the best question of the night, "How do we stop this runaway train [marriage equality] headed toward Tennessee?"  He answered simply that they had to pray, had to speak where God put them, had to talk to their friends and neighbors, and perhaps a Supreme Court challenge would go up in a couple of years where the Court would uphold traditional marriage.  FACT, though, is also sponsoring a work session entitled "Stand for Truth" at which they will be teaching what they describe as practical tools for talking to non-Christians about abortion and traditional marriage.

Well, in the long run, I have to agree that marriage is not dead.  Rather, I submit it is  getting a second wind.  A new (and not so new) generation or should a say, a protected class, of people want it, lust after it, desire it, and want to make it theirs.  They want to feel safe, secure, loved, transformed.  They want to rear children together, grow old together, and get buried together.  They want to build families and love each other to the fullest extent of the law, and  I am proud to say that I think Nate would agree with me that it is closer to reality here in Tennessee than ever before.

Now, here is your challenge.  Nate threw it out there when he recognized all of your unwillingness to take defeat.  Can you be as committed, as passionate, and as hard working when success seems to be in your grasp?  Can you show them you mean just as much business when you are winning as when you were being defeated?  The folks at FACT Forum on Marriage are reorganizing and restrategizing, and they believe they can do to equal marriage what they are doing to reproductive rights.  So, please don't let them win.  Work harder.  Work longer.  Reap your rewards, and fight on.  Marriage is close, but let's not stop until Nate's worse nightmare and our dream is realized - full acceptance of GLBT people in our society and under our law.  

- Anne Gullick, TEP and TEPF Board member

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

TEP applauds passage of Knox County non-discrimination ordinance

July 23, 2013

Contact:          Chris Sanders             (615) 390-5252            

Tennessee Equality Project applauds Knox County Commission on passage of non-discrimination ordinance

Nashville, TN—The Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), an organization that advocates equal rights for Tennessee’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community,  congratulates the Knox County Commission on passing an amendment to their non-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual
orientation and gender identity. 

Sponsored by Commissioner Amy Broyles, the ordinance passed its second and final reading yesterday without debate after the Commission named a new County Trustee.  Knox County now becomes the fourth local government in Tennessee to protect its government employees from job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  Metro Nashville in 2009, the City of Knoxville in 2012, and the City of Memphis in 2012 made similar moves.

Ben Byers, chair of the TEP Knox County Committee, notes the importance of the ordinance, "With no state or federal job protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender workers, the county's non-discrimination ordinance is vital in guaranteeing fairness on the job.  It means that Knox County won't allow discrimination to get in the way of attracting and retaining talented employees."

Byers, who attended yesterday's meeting, was joined by a group of citizens wearing blue and stickers that said "Same Work, Same Worth" to show their support of the ordinance.
Commissioner Amy Broyles and supporters in blue celebrate victory

For more information on the Tennessee Equality Project and the Tennessee Equality Project Foundation, go to .

Monday, July 22, 2013

JOB ANNOUNCEMENT: Executive Director

At Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), we work to protect and expand the rights of the LGBT people in Tennessee at the state and local level. As a 501(c)(4) organization, we work to shape public policy in city and county governments, school boards and the Tennessee General Assembly. TEP promotes and sustains the equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons through the establishment of fair and equitable laws protecting these rights and through the prevention and elimination of laws that would seek to counter this effort. Tennessee Equality Project Foundation (TEP Foundation) is a 501(c)(3) organization with the following objectives and purposes: (1) To encourage the distribution of information to the general public concerning discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender so that knowledge can be gained to help prevent such discrimination; (2) To conduct, finance, and promote educational seminars, conferences, and (3) To develop and promote programs to enhance understanding of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. (4) To engage in all other charitable, educational, and awareness activities permitted by law. TEP PAC supports the election of pro-LGBT rights candidates and supports the passage of pro-LGBT referenda, including laws, ordinances and resolutions in local, county and state governments.  TEP PAC may also work to defeat such candidates and referenda that would counter this mission.

The Board of Directors of TEP and the TEP Foundation is seeking a dynamic, results-driven Executive Director to lead both of organizations into a new era of growth and success. The Executive Director is responsible for day-to-day management of the 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(3) organizations. This includes staff supervision, program planning and implementation, budgeting, fundraising, financial management, and general organizational management. The Executive Director is the primary spokesperson for the organizations. S/he reports to active Boards of Directors who are committed to the success of the organizations.

This position reports to the 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(3) Boards of Directors.

Full-time, with some evening and weekend work for speaking engagements, events, and public meetings.

In-state for conferences and meetings with colleagues and regional steering committees is required.

Davidson County, Tennessee

  • Develop and maintain sound financial practices by securing operating revenue and ensuring long-term financial stability.
  • Implementing a comprehensive fundraising plan including grant writing, special events, memberships, corporate giving, special events, and as needed, capital campaigns or endowments.
  • Coordinate organizational activities under guidance of the Boards of directors. Give reports of organizational activities to the Boards.
  • Hire, supervise, and evaluate the job performances of staff and contractors (where applicable).
  • Work with staff, committees, and the Boards (especially the Treasurers) in preparing and executing a budget.
  • Develop and implement strategic plans which will grow the organizations’ abilities to achieve their missions.
  • Serve as a liaison to coalitions and partnerships with groups in the private, non-profit, and public sectors.  Promote, cultivate, and sustain positive public relations within the LGBT and allied communities.  
  • Maintain and cultivate relationships between TEP, stakeholders and government officials.
  • Serve as the chief spokesperson and manage the organizations’ campaigns and goals; manage media relations in the development of publications, e-newsletters, web sites, and social media communications for TEP and TEPF.
  • Assist in identification, training, and support of regional committee chairs (particularly in underrepresented regions of Tennessee)
  • Prepare and file applicable reports to regulatory agencies in order to remain compliant with state, local and Federal regulations.
  • Maintain awareness of current events which affect the lives of LGBT people and their families in Tennessee.

  • Requires Bachelor's degree and 3-5 years of related experience.  Master's Degree is preferred.
  • Experience in fundraising from individual, major donors, grant writing, and events (3 to 5 years preferred).
  • Strong political acumen and ability to navigate local, state, and federal politics in a bi-partisan manner.
  • Experience in non-profit or for-profit organizational management (at least 3 years preferred). Either professional or volunteer experience is acceptable.
  • Knowledge of the LGBT community and the public policy issues facing that community.
  • Demonstrated excellence in communication skills, both written and verbal.
  • Proficiency in office software, including MS Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) and experience with Constant Contact and PayPal applications or similar programs.
  • Experience with traditional, electronic and social media as well as printed publishing desired.
  • Knowledge of IRS regulations regarding 501c3, 501c4, PAC organizations and intersection of the same desired.

Salary commensurate with skills and experience.

Generous holiday and vacation policy.

To Apply:
Send cover letter, resume with three professional references, and salary expectations via e-mail to before Friday, August 16, 2013. Questions can also be e-mailed to or Phone calls discouraged.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

"Gay Brain Drain?" Maybe, maybe not

Hank Plante's piece on a possible "gay brain drain" is getting a lot of reposts and discussion in social media.  He's basically arguing that there could be a flight of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from states that ban same-sex marriage to those that embrace marriage equality. 

I know people who lived in Tennessee who left because of our discriminatory laws.  We probably all have anecdotal evidence.  And Plante gives some evidence for the possible brain drain in his piece, but nothing conclusive.  There's no real population study or any real statistics to back up his question or his hypothesis about brain drain.  So we're really left in the realm of speculation.  And as long as we're doing guesswork, I'll offer some thoughts of my own.

1.  It's a free country.  If folks want to move and can move, we should wish them all the best in their new lives.  People have to live their own lives where they believe they can make the best of it.  But...

2. There's no perfect state.  Even states like New York that give same-sex couples the freedom to marry can experience outbreaks of anti-gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender violence. 

3. The overturning of DOMA may actually slow the brain drain.  What I hear about more than folks moving are the stories of Tennessee couples vacationing in other states where they can get married and then returning to Tennessee.  They now know that, no matter what Tennessee does, their marriage will be recognized by the federal government and they can access key benefits that they couldn't before.

4.  Flight doesn't take into account gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children and people who come out later in life.  Even if all the adult GLBTs left Tennessee, there are more of us born every day to grow up here in the anti-marriage equality states and many who came out much later in life. 

5. Not everyone can move and not everyone wants to move.  If your job is here or a sick or aging relative, it may not be possible for you to move.  If you own a business, you may not want to jump ship and have to develop a whole new client list in another state.  Or if you have innumerable ties to a place, you probably won't base your decision solely on that state's laws.  We're multi-dimensional human beings and we make big decisions after weighing several factors like everyone else.

6. Some of us are going to stand and fight right here in Tennessee and other Southern states.  Plante asks, "But are smart gay and lesbian workers going to wait for their states to come around, or are they going to take their lives into their own hands?"

Smart gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people along with our allies are taking our lives into our own hands every day in Tennessee by living our lives openly, fighting negative legislation, working for better policies in our cities and counties, working against bullying, rallying for change, shaping a public message of equality in the media, being good neighbors, educating people about HIV/AIDS, loving our partners and bringing up our children, and running a business.

We're not waiting, Mr. Plante.  We're living our lives and we're making a Tennessee that is more equitable, just, and free. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What DOMA going DOA means to Tennesseans

(No straight marriages have been harmed in the making of this blog post.)

As your TEP Public Policy Chair, I want to send a huge hug of congratulations to all of the couples here in Tennessee and around the country that have had legal marriage ceremonies performed in states that recognize marriage equality.  These couples are now recognized as “spouses” for purposes of federal law.  All 1138 rights that were denied to them under the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 are now available to them, just as they are to straight married spouses.  It is a victory for LGBT Americans and a victory for LGBT Tennesseans…at least some of them.

I’d like to tell you that this means marriage equality for all LGBT Tennesseans, but I can’t do that.  The Supreme Court did not decide that states couldn’t deny marriage to same sex couples.  The decision says that the federal government has to recognize marriages that are legally valid in the eyes of the state that issued the marriage certificate. Tennessee does not issue valid marriage licenses to same sex couples.  We have what is called a “miniDOMA”, an amendment to our state constitution, which states: 
“The historical institution and legal contract solemnizing the relationship of one man and one woman shall be the only legally recognized marital contract in this state. Any policy or law or judicial interpretation, purporting to define marriage as anything other than the historical institution and legal contract between one man and one woman is contrary to the public policy of this state and shall be void and unenforceable in Tennessee. If another state or foreign jurisdiction issues a license for persons to marry and if such marriage is prohibited in this state by the provisions of this section, then the marriage shall be void and unenforceable in this state.”

In US v. Windsor, the Court looked at DOMA and noted that a decision about marriage was a state issue all the way back to the founding of the country.  It was DOMA that turned this idea on its head.  As the Court put it on page 3 of the decision:
“The State’s decision to give this class of persons the right to marry conferred upon them a dignity and status of immense import. But the Federal Government uses the state-defined class for the opposite purpose—to impose restrictions and disabilities.” 
“Its unusual deviation from the tradition of recognizing and accepting state definitions of marriage operates to deprive same-sex couples of the benefits and responsibilities that come with federal recognition of their marriages. This is strong evidence of a law having the purpose and effect of disapproval of a class recognized and protected by state law”

To sum it up, if a state believes you have the right to marry and issues you a valid marriage certificate, it is not the place of the federal government to deny you the status of marriage and deny you the benefits of marriage under federal law. 

So what does this mean for those LGBT Tennesseans who are legally married in other states but live here?  Well, Tennessee does not have a state income tax, so that is not an issue for us.  For your federal income tax, you may now file “Married, Filing Jointly”.  Next April, we will see the largest number of US citizens that will be ecstatic to file income taxes in the history of tax filing.  Besides income taxes though, what else will this affect?

Social Security, Disability, Medicare, Medicaid, Family Medical Leave, and a host of other federal benefits and privileges associated with marriage will be available to all spouses.  That will not depend on whether or not you and your spouse live in a state with marriage equality.  That is federal, and follows you and your spouse regardless of domicile.  If you or your spouse is a veteran, you will be treated just like any other married military family for federal benefits.  By the way, while hopefully you will never have to use it, you are also now entitled to spousal privilege in federal court, and cannot be compelled to testify against your spouse.

So how do we bring marriage equality to Tennessee?  That is a great question.  Unfortunately, the answer is not an easy one.  The earliest we could get the Tennessee miniDOMA repealed would likely be 2018, given the long process we have in this state to get an amendment passed or repealed.  That will take a great deal of time and effort, and the chances of success, while growing every year as more people show support in this state for LGBT equality, are still about 50-50. 

This is not the only battle we are fighting in Tennessee, though.  This state is a battleground for many issues affecting LGBT Tennesseans that are unrelated to marriage equality.  It is still legal to be fired from your job on the basis of sexual orientation in this state unless your employer has a policy forbidding discrimination on that basis.  It is still legal to be denied housing unless the property falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a federal agency.  Bullying is still a HUGE problem in our schools, as is harassment in our workplaces.  In some parts of Tennessee, local law enforcement and the local judicial system still have an antagonistic relationship with the LGBT citizens in their jurisdiction, making it harder to get crimes against our community investigated, solved, and reported.

These are the battles we fight every single day here in Tennessee.   But the work is worth it.  Every member of the LGBT community deserves the same rights and privileges as their straight counterparts in the state.  That is what the Tennessee Equality Project is fighting for, and we could use your help.  As wonderful as it is that the federal government now recognizes all legal marriages, the daily life of most LGBT Tennesseans is still a battle against prejudice and discrimination.

Today was a good day.  It really was a good day.  Enjoy it.  Celebrate it.  Tomorrow your Tennessee Equality Project folks will be back at work protecting your rights at the state and local level, albeit with smiles on their faces and a spring in their step that will last quite a while. 

*If I could just add a personal note, I am a bisexual woman married to a wonderful man who supports the work I do for equality without reservation.  I called my husband as I began writing this post and said, “So, are we still married?”  He snarkily replied, “Oh so THAT’S what’s wrong, I KNEW something was different!” 
DOMA never defended our marriage; DOMA attacked the marriages of our LGBT friends.  DOMA never defended anyone’s marriage, it just denied the benefits and privileges of marriage to LBGT Americans.  If DOMA defended marriage, then someone please explain to me why the divorce rate has not fallen since the act was passed in 1996? 

And again, No straight marriages have been harmed in the making of this blog post.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tennesseans share the impact of partner benefits in their lives

We've been surveying our members about the importance of partner benefits.  Despite the fact that a Vanderbilt poll shows that 62% of Tennesseans support partner health insurance benefits, not every employer offers them and NO public employers in the state offer them.

Here are some of the responses we received.  They make it clear that if you do the same work, you deserve the same benefits:

J in Nashville:  “My partner is self employed, health insurance would be much more expensive if not available through my employer and would likely provide sub-standard benefits.”

E in Memphis:  “It has made life better. My partner has been uninsured for long periods of time, during which we have dealt with some expensive health issues and both gone without lots of routine and needed healthcare.  Pretty ironic to work in hospital and not be able to use their services.   I would look for another job if mine did not offer DP benefits, especially since many of our competitors offer them.”

A in Nashville:  “My employer does offer health insurance benefits for same sex domestic partners. However, my partner has top-notch health insurance coverage (he works for the state of TN), so his policy is significantly better than what my employer could offer. Thus, we have separate policies from each of our employers.

This situation has affected our family negatively. The state of TN does not offer domestic partner benefits so I am unfairly kept from choosing the better policy; unlike opposite sex couples, I'm forced to settle for the lesser of the two. My policy has a deductible of $4,000; my partner's has no deductible. To make matters worse, of the two, I'm the one with the most medical needs. My co-pays and deductibles and out of pocket expenses exceed over $8,000 a year. If I was covered under his policy, our household's expenses would be reduced to aproximately less than $1,000 a year (a difference of aprox. $7,000).

I would not work for an employeer that would not offer same sex partner benefits. Same-sex couples are not treated equally at the state of TN.This kind of inequality is actually encouraging us to move to a different state.”

P in Memphis:  “Both of us are HIV+ which means we have some medications that are very expensive. Even with insurance our medical costs are sometimes challenging but I don't know how people without medical insurance survive. If my employer wasn't able to include my partner under my health insurance I would have to seek a different job.”

T in Nashville:  “I am legally married in New York. I served in the military and one year in AmeriCorps. Because I cannot access her benefits at work, we are forced to pay hundreds of dollars a month for a private plan for me. This is money that is not going into our economy. I am lucky however. I am young and healthy enough to be able to purchase health insurance. I don't know what we would do if this were not the case obviously we knew this when we decided to make our partnership it did not deter us from getting married, it is certainly a bitter pill to swallow when one thinks that a straight couple could meet and marry each other in a matter of hours or days and access these benefits which are denied to us for an educated person, this is very difficult to wrap my head around.”

D in Chattanooga:  “My company has offered DP benefits for as long as I have worked there (almost 4 years now). My partner recently lost his job and I was able to put him and our daughter on my insurance. Had my company not offered DP benefits they both would have lost their coverage.”

D in Cookeville:  “My wife is an adjunct professor at a University. Since it is considered a part-time job health insurance is not offered to her. She has a life-long illness that requires medication. Before working for _______ we had to try to manage to pay for her medication out of pocket and sometimes she went without often to the detriment of her health. I commute to Nashville from Cookeville to work and will continue to do so to make sure I can provide health coverage for my entire family. “